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Safeway Talks to the Animals

Animal welfare continues to be an emerging segment of the food business, and it's one supermarket retailers are right to invest in. Consumer interest and activist efforts to expose some of the darker secrets on the processing side can have a big impact on the sales end — particularly when there are protesters outside stores, amendments introduced at annual stockholders meetings and other public awareness stunts.

Resist all you want. One look at those undercover videos made by activists in slaughterhouses and consumers start demanding change. The images are shocking because everyone has become so far removed from the ugly, but necessary, act of slaughtering an animal for food. Consumers just see esoteric, overwrapped packages of red steaks and pale chicken breasts. They've forgotten about the bloody processing these animals go through to become case ready.

Safeway this week made the important decision to change its policies regarding food animals. The nation's third-largest supermarket chain had been in ongoing talks with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the Humane Society of the United States to adopt more animal-friendly sourcing rules.

There are three significant changes: The chain is "actively looking" for ways to increase purchases from poultry processors using "controlled atmosphere stunning" techniques (we'll let the link explain that one); pork suppliers who do not use sow-confining gestation crates; and egg vendors who offer cage-free eggs. Safeway is already offering products based on these policies in some regions, with more to be added as the policy phase-in continues.

These are important initiatives, not only because it's what consumers want, but it's just a better way of doing business.